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Election fever: 6 mobile apps that can keep you informed

February 10, 2012 06:45 AM ET

ElectionCaster

Handmark
Price: Free
OSes reviewed: iPhone, Android
Other OSes: iPad

ElectionCaster sells itself as the "most comprehensive source for political news" and, true to its word, the app is a giant aggregator of online news and views from across the U.S. political spectrum.

ElectionCaster
ElectionCaster

To help you sort through the noise, the app divides its incoming streams into Top News, Top Tweets and Commentary, which you can filter by National or Local feeds.

Top News gathers stories from sites like The Miami Herald, The Huffington Post, New York Post, The Washington Post, The Weekly Standard and Real Clear Politics -- though the news feed is inconsistently attributed. Sometimes you can see from the incoming stream that a news item is coming from The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal; others, you see only a writer's byline, or nothing, leaving you to have to click twice to reach the story's original source.

Same goes for Commentary, a somewhat random mashup of news analysis and opinion pieces -- most often you have to click through to the original source to see what it is you're reading, and from which media outlet.

I had problems with ElectionCaster's Top Tweets option -- I kept seeing Tweets from six days ago, no matter how many times I refreshed or reloaded. But even if the function were working correctly, it's a slower, second-rate way to monitor a Twitter feed.

A More option on the home screen offers a variety of other options. For example, a Polls listing takes you to data from Politico, HuffPost Pollster (the former Pollster.com) and RealClearPolitics -- a tolerable list, though the lack of Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog leaves a hole, as he was more consistently right in the 2008 election than any individual pollster.

A TalkBack option serves up emails and phone number for elected officials, primarily state reps and senators, and also lists contact info for something called My Media Faves, which turns out to be a TV-centric list of talking heads, in case you feel the urge to email Bill O'Reilly or Stephen Colbert. You can also link to Facebook or Twitter for easier sharing of any news postings.

(Incidentally, the Android version of ElectionCaster offers a richer variety of sharing options than the iPhone app -- in fact, in general I found the Android app easier to navigate and more visually appealing than the iPhone version.)

ElectionCaster's Blogs option rather amusingly lets you choose from Left, Center or Right orientation -- that's political orientation, though that's also the order in which they're physically presented on-screen. Left and Right blogs both include a cross-section of usual suspects, such as Politico, The Dish and Daily Kos on one side; National Review Online, Outside the Beltway and RedState on the other. Only four offerings appear as centrist: CNN PoliticalTicker, Factcheck.org, Hotline On Call and, curiously, Politics Daily, a site that ElectionCaster helpfully shows hasn't been updated in 45 weeks.

The modest length of the blogs list points up ElectionCaster's biggest drawback: You can't add or delete feeds, either to the Blogs or the News. That may not be a concern for political newbies or centrist users, but people with stronger opinions will miss the lack of customization.

Bottom line

Where does that leave ElectionCaster? It's a reasonably useful starter app for politically aware people who want to follow U.S. news and commentary in depth, but aren't passionate enough to feel the need to customize their experience. Whether, in our highly polarized political climate, there is anyone left who fits into that category, I'll leave that to the pundits to decide.

--Tracy Mayor



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